On Nov. 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump was elected president, his campaign recorded its first contribution from Chicago banker Stephen M. Calk — for $2,700, the maximum allowed under federal election law.
Around the same time, The Federal Savings Bank on Chicago’s Near West Side — which Calk founded and is chief executive officer of — was giving three mortgages totaling $16 million to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that have come under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
Mueller’s investigators reportedly have been looking into whether Manafort promised a presidential appointment to Calk, an economic adviser to the Trump campaign.
Twice in November 2016, Calk, a former Army officer and helicopter pilot, asked Pentagon officials about the appointment process to become secretary of the Army, records show. Calk, who attended the University of Illinois and Northwestern University and lives in Chicago, didn’t get the appointment. It’s unclear whether he was ever considered for the post.
Calk’s campaign contribution initially was categorized as being for the 2016 general election. But because the election was over, the money was reclassified toward the 2020 primary, federal records show.
Mueller’s office — which has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race as well as possible misdeeds by Trump’s campaign organization — wouldn’t comment.
Calk declined to answer questions, referring to a written statement that said, “Out of respect for the court and in the interest of fairness to the parties, the Federal Savings Bank will make no press comments during the pendency of Mr. Manafort’s trial.”
Democratic members of the House Oversight Committee, who have questioned the timing of the $16 million in loans to Manafort, “also have questions about campaign donations made by Calk to Trump around the same time of the loans and Calk’s inquiry about a White House appointment,” a House Democratic staffer said.
Manafort faces trial next week in Virginia in a bank- and tax-fraud case in which Mueller’s office accuses him of concealing tens of millions of dollars in income made by working for Viktor Yanukovych, a former pro-Russia Ukrainian president, and with misleading lenders about his finances. Separately, he’s been charged by Mueller’s office with crimes including money laundering, working as an unregistered agent of Ukraine and obstruction of justice.
Part of the case against Manafort accuses him of fraud in obtaining the loans from Calk’s bank.
“Manafort applied to . . . Lender D” — which has been identified as Federal Savings Bank — between “approximately July 2016 and January 2017” and, “with the assistance” of a codefendant, “sought and secured” about $16 million while making “numerous false and fraudulent representations,” according to court records. “For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored” paperwork for one of his companies “overstating its income by millions of dollars,” the records say.
Calk hasn’t been charged with any crime. An official of his bank has said it was “a victim of Manafort’s fraudulent conduct.”
On Monday, potential witnesses against Manafort were identified in court who have been granted “use immunity” from prosecution for their testimony, including two people who appear to be current or former Federal Savings Bank employees. Neither has been charged.
According to court papers cited in news accounts, bank employees flagged problems with Manafort’s loans, but they were approved anyway because of an unnamed “senior executive” who “factored in his own personal ambition.”
In 2012, Calk attended a news conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to announce the bank was opening a “national home loan center” in Chicago. City Hall agreed to $3.6 million in subsidies to Calk’s bank, which specializes in mortgages, to help train about 400 workers.
“The training included compliance and operations, management and leadership, lending and loan evaluations, mortgages and mortgage banker training, computer applications and accounting,” according to a City Hall spokesman. “It occurred in two phases . . . and involved 250 new hires and 157 existing workers. The training concluded when the company met its workforce-development goals.”
Earlier this month, American Banker reported that the bank, with $265 million in total assets, “collected $3.6 million in public subsidies in substantial part by rehiring employees who they had recently fired from a separate company” owned by Calk and his brother.